Reflection by Joseph G. Hanefeldt, Bishop of Grand Island

Twenty-five years ago, on March 25, 1995, the Solemnity of the Annunciation, Saint John Paul II issued his encyclical teaching entitled, Evangelium Vitae, The Gospel of Life. Each year, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops designates October as Respect Life Month, a time to focus on this teaching. This year’s respect life month theme is: “Live the Gospel of Life.”

As the bishop of this diocese, I have been entrusted with the pastoral care of souls and their moral and spiritual formation. Given the great unrest in our society in these days, I offer this guidance regarding this challenge to live the Gospel of Life.

There are many challenges to the dignity of the human person in our society today. From the moment of conception until the time of death, life is being assaulted in countless ways. Violence seems to be the common answer for everything: the violence of abortion, the violence of human trafficking, violence against immigrants, the violence of racism, the violence of suicide and assisted suicide, the violence of rioting and the destruction of property, the violence of Planned Parenthood selling aborted fetal body parts for profit, violence from those who will not tolerate the freedom of religion. Living the Gospel of Life challenges us to present a different way of living to our violent, broken world.

Each of us must look within our own conscience and consider how we think of others and notice how we treat them. What we say and do to them, and what we say about them to others, comes from the deepest recesses of our hearts. Consistently living the gospel of life requires a deeper conversion, beginning within our own hearts. We must repent of any disregard we may have had for the dignity of others. We must adhere to the gospel of life at all times, seeking God’s mercy for the times when we have not lived by the Golden Rule.

Then, beyond our own personal adherence to the gospel of life, we must advocate for the dignity of the human person in the culture in which we live, whenever it is violated. This advocacy takes place when we get involved. It happens when we step up to offer our own talents and resources for the poor, the homeless, the marginalized, the immigrant, the weak and defenseless, and the unborn. This advocacy fosters the good ordering of society.

In living the gospel of life, no violation of human dignity can be disregarded. At the same time, Catholics must know that not all issues are weighted equally. Yes, we must follow our consciences, but our consciences must be properly formed. Setting aside the wisdom of the Church’s teachings cannot simply be claimed as a matter of personal conscience.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), in our new introductory letter to the document, Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship: A Call to Political Responsibility, teaches this:
The threat of abortion remains our preeminent priority because it directly attacks life itself, because it takes place within the sanctuary of the family, and because of the number of lives destroyed. At the same time, we cannot dismiss or ignore other serious threats to human life and dignity such as racism, the environmental crisis, poverty and the death penalty.”

Recently, there has been some objection to this language that “abortion remains our preeminent priority,” arguing that it places too much emphasis on this one particular issue. My response to this objection is this: While Catholics debate where abortion should be ranked in the hierarchy of issues, there is NO dispute among those who oppose God’s design for marriage and family life. Abortion is THE preeminent non-negotiable issue for those in this country who are attacking traditional family values. If you do not think it should be the Church’s preeminent priority, watch what proponents of abortion on demand will do to ensure that this evil never goes away!

Abortion is a direct attack on human life, and its permanence in our culture is destroying our society. The litmus test for one’s participation in public office in this country is now determined by their position on abortion. Anyone who stands in the way of unlimited and unregulated taxpayer funded access to abortion is now being silenced and systematically persecuted. Yes, while there are many issues that merit our attention and support, abortion most directly attacks life itself. Abortion on demand has been the preeminent evil in our culture since it was legalized in 1973. To support those who champion abortion rights is to now blindly open the door for advancing widespread religious persecution.

No one has the right to destroy pre-born human life, yet we have legalized it as a “right” in this country! This is an unspeakable offense against the “Lord and giver of life,” yet we have grown numb to the magnitude of this evil. Furthermore, abortion is so essential to the agenda of those who oppose traditional family values that they force taxpayers to pay for this evil act, which is an affront to their religious liberty. This is anything but the just ordering of society!

We know there are those who prioritize unlimited, unregulated, taxpayer funded abortion on demand. As Catholics, we believe abortion is never an option. To support such people because one agrees with them on other issues is to disregard the deepest flaw of moral character: the willful affront to the sovereignty of God as the Lord and giver of life. When Catholics who are hailed as “devout” members of the Church do everything in their power to perpetuate the evil of abortion and support those who champion it, what kind of moral integrity is that? The priority of the inviolable right to life from the moment of conception must never be compromised. The availability of every other human right presumes first the right to exist.

We live in difficult times. Our world is suffering from so many evils. Our salvation is in Jesus Christ and not in politics, yet as citizens we must participate in the political process. Forces in opposition to traditional family values have one unrelenting goal that will not be compromised. Legalized abortion is bringing about the fall of this nation! Far from being “one nation under God,” we have become a nation in chaos. In this time of chastisement, let us live the gospel of life by entering into fasting and prayer, doing penance for God’s mercy upon this land!

If you are tired of the abortion debate, its supporters are not! Evil triumphs while we argue about moral exigency. Turn off the blogs, the social media, the news and Twitter. Instead, as a Church and as a nation, let us get on our knees and pray for God’s mercy to save our souls, guilty of the tragic disregard for his sovereignty and the sanctity of human life, made in his image and likeness!